“I’m dying, Critter,” I whisper to my imaginary raccoon. She has appeared, as always, to talk me through a flare of chronic depression.
“No, you’re not,” she retorts.
“God damn it. I don’t mean physically,” I grumble. I close my eyes and feel my cheeks burst into flame. Jesus Christ, Zottmann. Do not cry.
That thought just makes me want to cry more. Everything makes me feel worse. I push it away the only way I know how.
“Of course, I’m not literally dying, you condescending trash muncher. For fuck’s sakes! Listen!” Then, my voice echoes back into my ears. Aw, shit. I’m an asshole.
My posture flops and I add softly, “Please.”
Yep, here come the tears.
I slink to the bathroom to loudly saturate three-eighths of the kleenex box. Then I slump back onto my kitchen chair and lay my face on the table, looking away from my shat-upon friend. The cool surface of the oak soothes my cheek, but the grit of neglected crumbs and the tacky tang of a dried apple juice puddle scratch at my tenderness.
“Fuck. This is disgusting,” I think. “I am the shittiest housekeeper who ever lived.”
I bet there is some hideous bacteria festering in the table’s center crack right now, just inches from my face. All spills run into there. It’s like an ocean of failure.
Has the the table been warped, or was it designed with an imperceptible slope just to ensure that stupid crack would catch every drop of spill? It’s so wrong! It makes my head ache, along with that ghastly-smelling organism mouldering in the dank crevice.
We don’t even own the fucking leaf that’s supposed to slide into there, for the love of God. What a piece of crap. I mean, it’s actually a nice table, all solid oak and everything, but it’s a hand-me-down, like everything else in our shithole house, and the surface is wrecked. We promised ourselves we’d fix it up, but have failed at that. Like everything.
Critter’s impatient sigh disrupts my mental rant. I open my eyes and lift my head. For a moment, I forget why she is mad. I creak my neck around to look at her. Then I remember.
She is staring at me with her short arms crossed. Waiting. She doesn’t waste time chastising me. She just looks at me with that look on her face that says, “This conversation resumes when you make it right.”
I can feel my mouth twitch. It wants to mutter, “Bitch.” But I don’t let it. I’m not thirteen years old anymore.
I take a big breath and look at the furry face of my conscience embodied. She doesn’t look hurt, but my lashing out has pissed her off. She has no time for my self-sabotage bullshit.
Part of me wishes she would rise to the bait and we could have it out like a couple of furious drunks.
I want to purge all my pent-up anxiety with an apocalyptic throwdown. It would feel so good to scream, and then grab that holier-than-thou scavenger and let the violence blast out through my hands.
My blood aches for an emptying out: a grunting, heaving, exhausting grapple.
Even the stinging trails where the Critter’s claws would rake my face would feel like satisfaction. The disaster inside me could leak out there, through the wailing pain and trickle of blood.
Finally, I would savour an explosive release as I hurled the Critter’s weight into the wall. There would be a kick-drum thud. Finality. Utter fulfillment. Maybe even a dent in the plasterboard: gleeful, undeniable proof that I escaped the jaws impotence.
But as I said, Dark Little Critter is too smart for that. And although the monster in me is roaring to bathe in our blood, I am glad that my imaginary friend steps coolly around my trap.
I don’t really want to hurt her. She’s not the one who’s done me wrong. It’s me. Just me.
I want to be done now.
“Critter,” I rasp, “I’m sorry.”
She looks at me and exhales.
“I know,” she says.
I stare at the table. The filthy, ancient fridge behind me hums obnoxiously.
“Are you going to say what you need to say?” Critter finally asks.
“Okay. Here it is: I’m fucked, my friend. Totally fucked. I can’t make this writing business work. I tried. I’ve been balls-to-the-wall for six weeks. I spent hours every day watching, reading, and listening to “take it to the next level!” courses, while I scrubbed floors and toilets, fed the kids, bathed the kids… and ignored the kids. I built a new website, networked, set goals and conferenced for accountability. I even got a couple of clients. I got so close to figuring it all out, and then I got sick. I had to put things off and reschedule, and suddenly, I hated it. All of it.
I don’t want to do it anymore. I dread every eyeball-throbbing early morning, and the nights of multitasking mania that don’t end until I should have been in bed an hour ago. I despise the useless productivity plans that get crushed by bullshit from the kids, or me, or just life. I can’t stand the suffocating pressure to keep pushing harder and harder until it works. I can’t do this anymore. I’m fucked. My family is fucked. I’m a useless human being.”
Critter listens with her black brow furrowed, but doesn’t interrupt. She pauses a beat before she responds.
“You need sex,” she says. “It always clears my head when the bullshit squeezes too hard.”
“Ha! Are you kidding?” I say. “I wish it was that simple! I can’t even wrap my head around the thought of it right now.” I rub the flesh between my unplucked eyebrows and more tears come.
Unwisely, I start to picture Critter in the throes of a sexual exorcism. What would that look like? Do raccoons make weird sex faces? Do they do it in different positions? And what do they use for toys – pinecones?
I must be making a weird face of my own; Critter laughs out loud.
Then, she pats my leg kindly and crawls up onto my lap like a warm lump of comfort. I stroke the tiny curve of her crown, and she rolls her neck to expose the space behind her ear. I take the hint and scratch the fuzzy valley.
“You may be a long way from carnal bliss, but you can’t deny it, that’s what you need,” she says with her eyes closed.
I think about this. She’s not wrong. Orgasm is pretty much the opposite of depression.
I think back to times when I have used sex as an escape from self-hate. Sometimes, it was a huge let-down that just made the cycle worse. But other times, it was… a great release. The best times were with a partner who let his inhibitions go, and who I trusted to respect my boundaries while I let go, too.
Wild, but safe. Honest, open, and naked with someone who joins me at my level. Putting all the shoulds on mute, and turning rapt attention to our feral appetites.
“Holy shit,” I blurt. “BDSM is fucking therapy!”
“Hehehe. Fucking therapy,” Critter says. “Sounds good.” We both ponder the thought for a moment.
“Do you actually mean BDSM, or are you just talking about regular sex?” Critter asks.
“Definitely not regular sex,” I answer. “The usual is just painfully… judgemental. It gets ruined by criticism – hating on your body, your partner’s body, your experience or lack thereof, the expectation that the act will begin in a certain way, last a certain duration, and look and sound just like the movies. That second-guessing shit is exactly what makes life such a steaming pile of… of….”
“Lunch?” Critter offers.
“Putrescence,” I say. “Loathing. Despair. Depression.”
Critter tilts her head and frowns.
“What makes you think that BDSM is different?” she asks.
I rub my hair and frown while I think about this. Where is this idea coming from?
I picture all the things that are crushing my brain right now – the spiralling money problems, the fights with the kids and the husband, and most of all, the constant, contemptuous whisper that huffs in my ear and slimes every conscious thought.
“You fail,” it says with decayed breath.
What is the opposite of that?
Suddenly, my hands spring up, finger to the sky like a field goal cheer.
“The orgy!” I shout.
Critter’s mouth flops open.
“You had an orgy? How do I not know about this?” she asks.
“Not mine, Butthead,” I say, rolling my eyes. “Someone else’s. I read an essay by a man who organized an orgy, because it was his girlfriend’s birthday wish.”
Critter looks disappointed.
“It was amazing. The piece was about this very experimental couple involved with the fetish scene. One year, the woman shared her fantasy of being the center of an orgy. She was very specific – she wanted to be lavished with attention and sex on her terms, and the men needed to be healthy and kind and share the couple’s sex-positive attitudes. She asked her boyfriend to find suitable candidates, book a venue, and serve as her bodyguard during the event. The man was intimidated, but on-board, and together, they worked out all the details and made it happen. And they were both so happy. It was the most heartwarming love story I’d ever heard.”
Critter’s robber-mask markings shift like raised eyebrows. She’s impressed.
I can feel my face brighten as I remember reading the story. It blew my mind. I couldn’t believe there were such emotionally-secure relationships out there.
Wouldn’t that be the opposite of depression?
Ownership of your appetites. Open communication, acceptance of limits, and collaboration for mutual enjoyment.
No shame. No isolation. No punishment.
“Holy shit, Critter,” I say. “We might have just discovered the cure to depression.”
“It’s sex, isn’t it?” she says.
“That’s definitely part of it. But it’s more than sex. I think the answer is mindful, intentional pleasure and honest connection.”
I think about my life. My brain. My failures. My piece of shit kitchen table.
What if I could forget it all, and let the sweet synaptic honey of self-indulgence wash away my bitterness?
I might be a long way from planning an orgy, but I can start right now to make room for my inner animal. Who knows where that will lead.
If I’m honest, I have to admit that in spite of all my obligations to the house, the kids, and the gaping debt hole, I can hear the wet chambers of my heart slapping out a message: write a book.
I’m going do it – let myself slide beneath the bubbles of the most selfish use of my time and money I can think of.
I’ll make sure my husband is on-board and recruit a gang for support. We’ll see if we can set that fantasy free.
And I’m going to scrub this fucking table.
“So, you’re saying we need to find like-minded members for our orgy, and march proudly into the dens of ecstasy where we belong?” Critter asks.
“Pretty much.” I answer.
“I can get behind that philosophy,” she says, her eyes crinkling with a smile. “Though, I prefer to be the one got-behind.”
Critter hopes that you let your fantasies speak, too. May you actualize your version of the great birthday gangbang, and may it cure what ails your body and brain.